He walked into the room to receive the coveted award for community involvement. He had worked in neighborhoods across the city and God had blessed his efforts. He compassionately reached out to the marginalized and those that had been written off by the vast majority of the community. He quoted Scriptures like they were part of him. He preached…man did he preach — and many came from all walks of life to hear him share God’s Word. Street people, congressmen, wealthy business people, black, white, and brown — they came to hear him preach the Word of God. Jim Jones walked like a preacher, talked like a preacher, and looked like a preacher and so everyone assumed that this charismatic and driven man was a man of God, but sometimes it ain’t always so.

He went to medical school and fulfilled all of the rigorous requirements that a person must undertake to receive their degree and begin their practice. He studied, probed, and practiced in order that he might become a healer. He took the Hippocratic Oath and promised to preserve life. They handed him his diploma, put a stethoscope around his neck, a lab coat on his back, called him doctor, and everyone assumed that Jack Krevorkian was a man of medicine, a curator of cures for the ill, but sometimes it ain’t always so.

There is an old saying that goes something like this: “If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck, then you can feel safe in assuming that it is a duck.” I came by this morning to tell you that it ain’t always so.

In our study for this morning we are going to look at a man’s life. A man that, when we gathered the evidence and examine all of the elements of his life, appears to be a committed follower of Jesus, a Christian. I have learned not to trust my judgement, I need the input of others. I want to share with you this man’s vitals and then have you help me to determine if this man is a genuine follower of Jesus or not.

It is not my desire to merely dissect the life of Cornelius so that we can reach a verdict on whether or not he was truly a Christian. Hopefully, in taking the time to examine Cornelius’ life we can then make the jump to taking a look at each of our own lives. Better yet, we can allow the Spirit of Almighty God to probe the depths of our hearts to determine if we have ever truly committed our lives to Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Let’s take a look at our Scripture for this morning found in Acts 10:1-8.

At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. {2} He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. {3} One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!” {4} Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked. The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. {5} Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. {6} He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.” {7} When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. {8} He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa. (Acts 10:1-8 NIV)

Cornelius, like most of us, had two strikes against him in some ways and yet he had a lot going for him. We can learn quite a bit about this man from Caesarea just by reading these first eight verses in Acts 10. Let’s take a look at what we can learn about Cornelius from these verses and then we the jury will make our decision concerning whether or not Cornelius was indeed a Christian.

First, Cornelius lived in Caesarea. Caesarea was located on the Mediterranean Sea just sixty miles northwest of Jerusalem. The city had been around since the fourth century before Christ. The city was Greek in its architecture and heavily populated by Gentiles. It city was given by Caesar Augustus to the Jewish king Herod the Great, who in turn named the city Caesarea and allowed a temple to be built in honor of Caesar with a huge Colossus of Caesar. Secondly, Cornelius was a centurion of the Italian Regiment. A centurion was an officer in the Roman army. A Roman legion was made up of 6000 men and was divided into 10 cohorts of 600 men each. A centurion commanded 100 men each and there were 60 centurions to each Roman legion. Cornelius was a responsible man, a leader of men.

There are other centurions that are mentioned in Scripture. In Matthew 8:5, a centurion who lived at Capernaum approached Jesus on behalf of his servant who was ill. In Mark 15:39, a centurion who witnessed the crucifixion identified Jesus as the Son of God. In Acts 27:3, the centurion named Julius treated the apostle Paul with courtesy. They were usually career soldiers, and they formed the real backbone of the Roman military force.

The Roman historian Polybius described centurions as “not so much venturesome daredevils as natural leaders of a steady and sedate spirit, not so much men who will initiate attacks and open the battle as men who will hold their ground when worsted and hard pressed and be ready to die at their posts.” (Histories vi. Xix-xlii, cited in Naphtali Lewis and Meyer Reinhold, eds. Roman Civilization: Sourcebook 1: The Republic [New York: Harper and Row, 1966], 435). Like the other centurions mentioned in the New Testament, Cornelius had reached his rank by proving reliable, courageous, and dependable to his commanding officers.
Thirdly, Cornelius was a gentile. Gentiles were any and all of those who were outside of God’s chosen people. To the Jews, gentiles were the scum of the earth and the Jewish people were not allowed to associate with any of them.

Along with these facts of where Cornelius lived, what he did, and his ethnic background, we can also learn some other things about Cornelius, namely his character, and we can gain great hope.

First, we learn that Cornelius was a devout man. It is not too difficult for us to understand his devotion when we understand the kind of work that Cornelius reported to each day. Being in charge of people with authority and responsibility demands that one possess devotion if he is going to hold that position of authority for very long.

Secondly, we learn that Cornelius was a man who feared God. Caesarea was a city of many different religions and many opportunities to worship whichever deity a person thought might benefit him or her most. Cornelius had turned his back on all of this and had sought God alone. He feared God. Cornelius had a deep respect and reverence for God and his reverence was lived out as we see from the next characteristic we can learn of his life.

Thirdly, Cornelius gave generously to the people. When Cornelius saw a need he sought to meet it. He gave generously to all people who were in need. What a great characteristic for someone to possess.

I was at camp last summer when one of the leaders was giving the counselors an opportunity to give some money so that kids who couldn’t afford it could come to camp. Eric asked a young woman sitting close-by if she was going to give and she said, “Well, I’ll have to pray about it.” Eric said, “What is there to pray about? See a need, meet a need. It’s not like you have to pray about giving.” I wish more of us would think and act like that. Cornelius was a man who didn’t have to pray about giving — he gave generously!

Fourthly, Cornelius was a man who prayed to God always. Verse 2 tells us that Cornelius prayed to God always. Prayer is a definite mark of a follower of Jesus is it not? Jesus taught His disciples to pray, Paul said to “pray without ceasing,” and 121 times in the Bible the word “prayer” is mentioned.

Fifth, Cornelius had an experience with God. Not only did Cornelius have all the marks of a Christian, but he also had an experience with God. We are told in verse 3 that Cornelius had a vision of an angel of God coming to him. Let me share with you the encounter Cornelius had with this messenger of God. Take a look at verses 3-6 {3} One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!” {4} Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked. The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. {5} Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. {6} He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.” (Acts 10:3-6 NIV)

When was the last time you have heard your name spoken out loud by an angel of God? That’s pretty impressive isn’t it!?
Not only did Cornelius possess all these spiritual attributes going for him, but there is only final thing — He was obedient.
Sixth, Cornelius was obedient. Cornelius was told to send some of his men to Joppa to get Peter and he did it. As soon as the vision was over he called two of his household servants together with a devout soldier and he told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa to get Peter.

Cornelius didn’t sit down and analyze the vision that he had seen. He didn’t try to explain it all away by saying that he had been putting in long days in basic training with the new recruits. Cornelius didn’t ask God for a second sign that what had happened was really real. He didn’t do any of these things. As a matter of fact, the one thing Cornelius did was exactly what he had been told to do — he sent some of his men to Joppa to get Peter.

These aspects and elements of Cornelius’ life which have taken a look at this morning are, I believe, ample evidence for all of us be able to arrive at a conclusion as to whether or not this man was or wasn’t a man who had received Jesus as Lord and Savior of his life. Now it is time for us to cast our ballots. It is time for the jury to recess and come to your decision.
I can see some of you thinking right now. I hear you say to yourself, “Well, that man couldn’t have been a Christian because he was from the wrong side of the tracks. He was a gentile and we all know that gentiles are dogs, the scum of the earth!” I hear someone else thinking out loud, “He couldn’t have been a Christian because he was a war mongering mongrel. A military man who commanded troops to kill the enemy. Anybody of any intelligence would conclude that to be a Christian you must also be a pacifist — encouraging others to beat their swords into plowshares.

I hear some thoughts from the other side rising up. I hear someone thinking, “Of course this man was a Christian he gave generously to everyone in need. He didn’t try to build his own kingdom, he was willing to give his possessions away so that others might be able to exist in the now.” I hear someone else thinking, “Not only did he give generously, but he prayed all the time. How could anyone doubt this man’s salvation when he is on his knees seeking guidance from Almighty God day and night?” Someone else is thinking, “I vote that he has received Christ because he feared God and the Bible says that ‘the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom’ and that ‘wisdom comes from God.'”

Oh, I feel the weight of the thoughts swirling around the room right now. Which will it be, how will you vote, where does he stand? Does he stand in right relationship with Almighty God because he asked Jesus to forgive him of his sins and come into his heart as Lord and Savior? Does he stand apart from Almighty God as a sinner lost in sin and destined to spend eternity apart from Almighty God? Which will it be?

The time is up. It is now time to cast your vote. What will it be? I would imagine that most of us would vote that the man is indeed a devout follower of Jesus. A sinner saved by grace, born again, a Christian in the truest sense of the word. When I first read the story I certainly came to that conclusion, but I came today to tell you that as strong as the outward evidence may be — it ain’t always so.

As you read on in the story you find that Peter responded and traveled the thirty miles to Caesarea to see Cornelius. When he arrived we read of Cornelius’ greeting to Peter. Take a look at Acts 10:30-33.

Cornelius answered: “Four days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me {31} and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. {32} Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea.’ {33} So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.” (Acts 10:30-33 NIV)

Cornelius said, “We are all here and ready to hear what God has commanded you to tell to us.” When Cornelius sent his men on the journey to get Peter he didn’t sit around the house or watch T.V. waiting for Peter to arrive. No, according to Acts 10:24, we read, “The following day they arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends.” (Acts 10:24 NIV) Cornelius went and gathered up all of relatives and friends so that when Peter arrived they could also hear what the man of God was going to bring to them.
You want to know why I am always asking you to bring your friends and neighbors, enemies and allies to church — there it is right there. The Word of God needs to be heard by every single person who is drawing a breath at this very moment. It is Good News! We all need some Good News. Not just us, but all people need the Good News of Jesus Christ to set them free from the sin and hopelessness of this life!

I get discouraged when I see folks not bringing other folks to church. I get discouraged for two reasons: 1) I get discouraged because there are people in your realm of influence which need the Good News of Jesus and it is being withheld from them. 2) I get discouraged because I wonder about how good we feel the Good News really is. I mean if it was really good then surely we would tell everybody we ran across during the day. Oh, my friends invite your friends, neighbors, relatives, co-workers, enemies, and allies to church with you. It doesn’t cost a thing if they say, “No” — but if they happen to say, “Yes” and find the Savior — you will never be the same again.

Two weeks ago a young lady in our church named Kim invited a friend named Lynn to come to church with her and she came. Last Sunday morning Lynn came forward to receive Jesus as Lord and Savior of her life and I will promise you that Kim will never forget that moment. There is nobody more excited about what the Lord is doing in Lynn’s life than Kim. I talked to Lynn this past week and she told me that since Jesus has come into her heart she is seeing the world in a totally different way now. Isn’t that exciting! You better believe it is! There is nothing more exciting in all of life!
Cornelius brought his family and friends to his house to have church when Peter arrived. When Peter did arrive Cornelius said, “Now we are all present to hear the words God has commanded you to give us from God.” Peter didn’t have to rustle through his satchel to find a sermon he knew what God wanted the people to hear and it is the same thing He wants you and me to hear — Jesus.

It Ain’t Always So!
Acts 10